3 things the New Orleans Saints must do to upset the Panthers

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The Carolina Panthers currently have 89 percent of fans taking them over the New Orleans Saints in ESPN Pigskin Pick’em.

It’s a common theme when you see an unbeaten powerhouse coming up against a struggling team that has lost three straight contests. The Saints (4-7) only have optimism to cling to currently, and the hopes that they can do battle with the Panthers (11-0) on Sunday, as the deck is stacked heavily against them. After all, the Panthers have won three out of the last four games against the black and gold.

This is an NFC South clash, which does make it anyone’s game, but in order for Sean Payton’s squad to avoid another .500 season or worse (for now), here’s what they must do against Ron Rivera and company.

Give Drew Brees time (…And for God’s sake, protect him!)

Drew Brees has now been sacked 8 times in the past three games, and might still have visions of J.J. Watt in his dreams (or nightmares). The offensive line play, or lack thereof, has been mostly miss. Sean McDermott’s defense enters tied for 3rd best in the NFL with 33.0 sacks this season. Terron Armstead is questionable to play, and the Andrus Peat experiment at left guard is going to happen again. In his past four outings against the Panthers, Brees has been sacked 14 times.

Brees has averaged 42 passing attempts over the past four games. The Panthers linebacker combination of Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly will anticipate short attempts to players like C.J. Spiller and Mark Ingram, so Sean Payton can’t continue to be predictable. In the past two games, it seems like opposing defenses knew the plays well before the Saints could execute them.

Start off on the right foot and deliver

You’re going to have an anxious Superdome crowd with what representation is actually there, and they’ll likely be looking for a reason to get on the team early. That’s just the nature of it all when you are 4-7. If you tried to rid yourself of last year’s debacle at home, the Saints trailed the Panthers 24-3 by halftime. It got ugly quick, and turnovers plagued the Saints.

Last week, the Houston Texans leaped out to a 14-0 lead, and a tired defense couldn’t recover properly with an ineffective offense. Although it wasn’t an elite offense, the Saints defense allowed only 5.5 yards per play against the Texans. For some perspective, Rob Ryan’s last game against the Washington Redskins had a whopping 8.7 yards per play given up. The Panthers offense is only 17th in the league averaging 348.7 yards per game, so there’s an opportunity to get it going.

The Saints offense went a horrid 3-for-12 (25 percent) on third down last week. Let’s not forget to mention that the once heralded potent attack of Sean Payton’s crew has 20 points in the past two games.

Needless to say, this is a game where you have to play all four quarters.

Don’t let Cam Newton bully you

Cam Newton whether you love or hate him, has absolutely crushed the New Orleans Saints. He has a 5-4 career record against the Saints, and passing totals of 147 completions, 1,916 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. On the ground, Newton has 69 rushes, 377 rushing yards, and 5 touchdowns.

Newton’s past two games against the Saints defense:

  • 9/27/15 – 20/31, 315 yards, 2TD, 7 rushes, 33 yards, TD (119.7 QBR)
  • 12/7/14 – 21/33, 226 yards, 3TD, 12 rushes, 83 yards, TD (114.0 QBR)

Newton has the ability to beat the Saints defense, who currently sits at 31st overall with 418.6 yards per game given up. I’d completely expect the Saints to bring some blitzing to the table with Dennis Allen in the mix, but the biggest question is whether it will be effective or not. Also, can the Saints actually bring down Newton?

If you don’t want to have things like this happen, then keep him out of the end zone.

The Saints don’t have to be spectacular at defense on Sunday, and no one is asking that. Just execute on offense and do enough to put things together for a victory.

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